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Breaking Through Barriers: Battling Our Fears to Connect With Others

By Gina Watts | February 15, 2023
Breaking Through Barriers: Battling Our Fears to Connect With Others

Did you know that adults speak between 7,000 and 35,000 words per day? That’s a big range, I know – some of us speak more than others. And that makes sense, because if you dig deeper, you’ll find that the number of words we speak is typically related to a variety of factors like our gender, ethnicity, family of origin, profession, and so on. Comparatively, there are about 90,000 words in a 300-page book. In theory, if you spoke 20,000 words a day, you could write at least one book per week, 52 books per year. 

What would your books say? What fears would they reveal? What hopes would they convey? What pain would they present? What truths would they share? What lies would they tell? What myths would they create? What impact would they make? What value would they add to the reader?

I wonder what we are saying to each other. I wonder what we are saying to ourselves. I wonder if we are just talking or if we are actually connecting. 

Effective communication is far more than speaking words. Effective communication requires connecting – a meaningful transaction between people through relationship building. In his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell says, “The ability to connect with others begins with understanding the value of people.” He goes on to say, “Understanding that your focus must be on others is often the greatest hurdle people face in connecting with [them].”

Connecting is crucial for leaders. The best leaders are effective communicators and therefore, great connectors. 

Ask yourself, “Am I an effective communicator? What are my leadership blindspots that limit my ability to communicate effectively with others? What is keeping me from connecting with those around me?”

These are questions that growth-oriented leaders may ask themselves. Leaders who are committed to growing their bottom line must also be committed to growing their people and listening to their consumers. And those leaders know that to grow their business in both profit and people, they must grow on purpose. Purposeful growth is not just happenstance. It requires identifying gaps, articulating fears, and moving intentionally to resolve them. 

Connecting Focuses on Others; Fear Focuses on Me

We speak thousands of words each day. We hear and read tens of thousands of words. Internationally, adults spend an average of 7 hours of screen time per day.  And according to Hootsuite, “4.74 billion people across the world use social media [and] spend an average of 2 hours and 27 minutes per day” on sites like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and more.

In a time where we often equate increased virtual access to people, places, and things with “connecting,” we find ourselves with fewer meaningful relationships and experiencing more hate, feeling more isolated, and expressing more fear than ever before. The tools that were created to connect us are doing the opposite. But the tools are just tools. The human experience of the users – that’s where we need a reboot. We have significant user error, and we must challenge ourselves to explore our own “hardware” to diagnose the problem and fix it.

One problem – one barrier to meaningful connections – is fear.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” 

What if we changed the phrase “fail to get along” to “fail to connect?” It could now read like this: “People fail to connect because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

While we can learn a lot about people through our social media channels, we can’t truly know each other without communication. I’ve heard John Maxwell say, “Be a river, not a reservoir.” A reservoir holds water but nothing flows from it. A river is fluid; it’s moving; it’s a channel connecting bodies of water. Effective communication requires connecting, just like a river – fluid, flowing. A dam in that river is fear and we must identify those fears and take action to overcome them. 

The fears may be big and require more than our own skillset or expertise. They may be small and, once identified, have a simple resolution or next step. Maybe you’re afraid of the differences in others. Maybe you’re afraid of the unknown, the challenges ahead, or disappointing others. Your secrets revealed. Failure. Success. Accountability. Whatever your fear is, it is keeping you from connecting with others and pushing you toward isolation, further fueling the fear. 

Naming our fears is the first step. Battling our fears is the next. 

Fear demands us to focus on self and our response to internal or external, real and perceived, threats. If dominant, it can win our will and lead us to retreat away from others, develop barriers, and keep us from effectively leading, communicating, and connecting. 

Connection requires us to focus on others. It requires us to be courageous. It compels us to do three things:


To connect with others, we must make space to connect with them in our daily lives. If you are someone who now works from home and has little access to people in real life, increasing your opportunities to see people face-to-face is the first step. Instead of having items delivered, go to the store. While you’re there, smile kindly and greet folks you don’t know with a simple hello. For some of you, this may seem too simple – but for others, it’s a significant step. Increasing your access to others and their access to you opens the door to connecting.


When people know that you genuinely care about them, you push the door wide-open for connection. John Maxwell says that “if you can learn to care about others, you can connect with them. You can help them. And you can make both your life and their lives better.” Take time to learn about others so that you can genuinely share your care for them and their life experience. Connecting requires selflessness. Emotionless acknowledgement and generic platitudes won’t do it. Listen. Learn. Care.


When you are intentionally connecting with others, you are compelled to consider the future through them. Rosilyn Houston, Chief Human Resources Officer at Santander US, once said, “Use every leadership opportunity you are given to exercise power through people rather than power over people. A leader of integrity will empower others by instilling confidence, competence, and capability in them.” Connecting with others allows you to see the world through them and creates opportunities for you as a leader to deepen your bench. In Dr. Maxwell’s collaboration handbook The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, the Law of the Bench explains how important it is for teams to have great depth. He says, “A great starter alone is simply not enough if a team wants to go to the highest level.” Will your work only live because of you and not go beyond you? What are you doing to connect with and cultivate the next generation of leaders in your life? 

Prominent missionary J. Oswald Sanders once said, “Adding leadership potential to our lives usually requires that we shake off negative elements that hold us back.” Fear can keep us from connecting. What fears do you need to shake off so that you can lead well? Communicate well? Connect deeper?

About Gina Watts

Mrs. Gina Watts is an advocate, author, speaker, educator, and leader with a heart for service. Since 2001, Mrs. Watts has served as a leader for more than 20 boards and developed three nonprofit organizations. Since 2010, she has toured local schools and youth groups, meeting with youth to help them identify their personal and professional goals. Her experience as a college instructor, global career development facilitator, organizational leader, strategist, and member of the Maxwell Leadership Certified Team has more than prepared her to assist individuals enhance their leadership skills and/or those of their teams and organizations. As a servant-leader in the home, Gina is a wife to Eric and mother to Christian and Eric Jr. Those two roles bring her the most joy.

Are you a leader looking for ways to make your impact on others?

The Maxwell Leadership Certified Team was founded to empower transformational leaders ready to change their lives, their personal circles, their communities, and the world. To inspire that level of transformation, Maxwell Leadership is hosting Personal Growth Day – an entire day devoted to your personal growth and development. John Maxwell and his panel of personal growth experts – including NFL head coach Sean McDermott and fashion brand Sseko Designs founder Liz Bohannon – are coming together to send you on your way toward your best for your world.

You can register for Personal Growth Day 2023 here. We hope to see you there!

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